The robot applies a resin to the inside of gas pipelines, repairing them from the inside

Scarlett Evans, Assistant Editor, IoT World Today

February 14, 2024

2 Min Read
CMU's modular robot
Carnegie Mellon University

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's (CMU) Robotics Institute have nearly completed a three-year project developing a crawling robot to inspect and repair natural gas pipelines.

The crawling modular robot is designed to move along the inside of pipes, mapping their location and identifying cracks and leaks. 

It also can repair the pipe by applying resin along the pipe’s interior, creating a stronger wall within the original. The robot is designed with a spinning nozzle at its tip to apply the resin, which a Colorado company is currently in the process of commercializing.

The system is also fitted with a high-resolution optical sensor which examines the color of the pipe and uses a laser system to identify defects to build 3D maps of the pipe networks. 

AI and augmented reality are also used to give engineers insight into the pipes and help evaluate the data gathered by the robot.

The project is sponsored by the Department of Energy (DOE) as part of its Rapid Encapsulation of Pipelines Avoiding Intensive Replacement (REPAIR) program, established to leverage robotics to build new natural gas pipes within leaky ones — repairing them from the inside out.

The robot system isn't particularly fast, capable of inspecting about nine miles of pipe in eight hours. 

Related:Robotic Inspection Tech to Automate Offshore Sites

According to the DOE, there are around 1.2 million miles of natural gas pipeline in the U.S. and it costs up to $10 million per mile to excavate and repair. Automating this process would therefore enable significant cost and time benefits, as well as future-proofing the infrastructure as energy consumption is set to rise.

“The robotic system…could be deployed in pipes of any material,” CMU said in a press release. “It's also modular, so it can be configured for each job.”

The team evaluated their system using a testbed built by Peoples Gas. The robotic system currently has a 200-foot range, with an eventual target range of around 6,500 feet. The team also said it is working to design a smaller iteration of the robot for narrower pipes, with the current version targeting 12-inch diameter pipes and a 6-inch diameter version in development.

About the Author(s)

Scarlett Evans

Assistant Editor, IoT World Today

Scarlett Evans is the assistant editor for IoT World Today, with a particular focus on robotics and smart city technologies. Scarlett has previous experience in minerals and resources with Mine Australia, Mine Technology and Power Technology. She joined Informa in April 2022.

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